(Book #11 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series)
Joanna Campbell Slan
Our wedding day dawned like a scene from a fairy tale. Frozen rain coated the freshly fallen snow. The glassy surface glistened like a million tiny diamonds. Icicles hanging from the eaves of our house formed natural prisms, casting rainbows across the blanket of white. Sunlight transformed the long dead banks of mums into mounds, like glittering pillows under a white duvet. The scene before us was beautiful, but treacherously slick. This overnight winter storm had paralyzed travel throughout the St. Louis area. All the salt and sand we’d tossed down on the walkways hadn’t done much good.
Our friend Detective Stan Hadcho guided me along the flagstones, by means of a good grip on my elbow. He escorted me from the back door of our house to the gazebo. As we walked, Leighton Haversham, our former landlord and dear friend, snapped photos so I could make a memory album. That’s what I do. I'm a scrapbooker and owner of a store called Time in a Bottle.
At the stairs to the gazebo, I stared up into the smiling faces of the people so dear to me: my newly adopted son, Erik; my daughter, Anya; Erik’s aunt, Lorraine Lauber; our nanny, Bronwyn Macavity; my fiancé, Detective Chandler Louis Detweiler; and of course, our animal friends, my dog Gracie and Lorraine’s dog Paolo. They’d all stood there patiently in the cold, waiting for me to arrive. Detweiler reached down to take my gloved hand so I could step up and join him. His eyes were warm with emotion, and his gaze was steady. Moist clouds of exhalations floated around all our faces, forming gossamer veils of moisture. As we turned to face Lorraine, who would be conducting the ceremony, Detweiler wrapped an arm around my waist.
Correction: A small portion of my waist.
At eight-and-a-half months pregnant, I’m the size of the Goodyear Blimp. Or at least that’s how it feels.
But Detweiler loves me. I’m carrying our baby, and our other two children are happy and healthy. Even though the overnight storm was keeping much of our extended family from joining us today, our wedding would be a joyous event.
Detweiler’s shoulder brushing up against mine, so strong and solid, augured a good start to the rest of our lives. We stood side-by-side, exactly the way we intended to go through life, as friends and lovers.
"Not too bad for a wedding thrown together in forty-eight hours," he whispered in my ear as Lorraine (aka “Aunt Lori”) opened her prayer book. There was a chuckle in his voice.
I tried not to giggle. Although I have been dreaming about marrying Detweiler ever since I met him nearly three years ago, this day was a long time coming. Even though I kept telling myself that a ceremony was only a formality, deep down I really wanted to wear a wedding band again—as long as it was his! The legalities of our relationship might not matter much to Detweiler and me, but they could matter terribly to our two kids and to the baby who was kicking imaginary field goals inside me. I’d learned the hard way that the legal system can be your best friend and your worst enemy.
Initially I'd planned for us to get married in the gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Detweiler and I had even talked about flying our whole family to Las Vegas and visiting the wedding chapel inside a Denny’s. The kids would have loved that combination, wedding bells and pancakes. But my friend Clancy Whitehead reminded me, "You're eight months along. They don't allow women that pregnant on a plane."
So I'd tabled that project, and made a notation on my calendar to revisit our wedding plans after December 25th. I would have hurried through the holiday season and put the idea out of my head, except for something unsettling that happened to my son.
My sisters, Amanda and Catherine, had asked if they could spend a Saturday baking cookies with my kids. Of course, I said yes. Anya and Erik were delighted. From the big smiles on their faces, they’d had a wonderful time.
“Look, Mama Kiki,” said Erik, as he offered up a small shopping bag. Inside were two shoeboxes and two Pringles cans filled with yummy treats.
“I’ve got one too.” Anya grinned at me. “We’ll have plenty to share with Aunt Lori and Leighton.” After thanking my sisters profusely, I hustled my children out to the car.
My mouth began to water as we were pulling away from the curb of the rental house my sisters share with my mother. The car’s interior smelled wonderfully of butter, sugar, and vanilla. Now and then, I caught a whiff of cinnamon.
Sometimes playing chauffeur is a drag, but there’s an undeniable magic that happens when you’re looking out the front window and your children are in the back seat. Remember Arthur Godfrey? How he said that kids say the darnedest things? Something about car rides encourages that. Especially longish car rides.
We were merging onto the heavy traffic on Highway 40 when Erik explained to me that because Detweiler and I weren't married, our new baby would be a "littermate."
"A littermate?" I adjusted my rearview mirror so I could look at him. My son’s solemn face stared back at me. His chocolate brown eyes, his mocha-colored skin, and his red hair testified to his biracial heritage. He might not be the child of my womb, but he's certainly the child of my heart. From the moment I set eyes on him, I fell in love with that little boy.
"A littermate? I don't understand what you mean, sweetie.”
Anya rolled her eyes and explained, "He means i-l-l-e-g-i-t-i-m-a-t-e."
It took me a while to put those letters into a word. When I did, I nearly drove off the road. "Uh, Erik, honey? Who was talking to you about the baby being a ...littermate?"
"Grandma Collins," he said.
My mother. That paragon of parenthood.
I gritted my teeth. “That figures.” Although she didn’t know it, my Mom had just moved one step closer to an apartment in assisted living. Mom didn’t know it, but the rental house was going up for sale. My sisters and I had several meetings, trying to decide how to cope with our aging parent. In the end, we decided to wait until after the holidays were over.
Calling my child "illegitimate" marked a new low, even for her.
I told myself to shrug it off. To consider the source. But Anya turned her denim blue eyes on me and said, "She's right, Mom."
"Don't worry," I said. "Detweiler and I still have plenty of time to tie the knot."
Two hours later, the contractions started.
<< To Be Continued >>
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